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Interview with RAWA spokeswoman

[Afghanistan] RAWA campaigns for Afghan women's rights in Pakistan.
RAWA campaigns for Afghan women's rights in Pakistan (IRIN)

Marina Mateen, a RAWA spokeswoman in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, told IRIN on Thursday that women in some Afghan cities were beginning to relive a nightmare, and were running scared, following news of the Northern Alliance takeover.

QUESTION: Has the situation of women in Afghanistan deteriorated since the events that followed 11 September?

ANSWER: It is very difficult to get clear reports, but as soon as the Northern Alliance entered Mazar-e Sharif [northern Afghanistan] we feared the worst. Many people, especially women, have left the city as they feared that the crimes that were committed by them [Northern Alliance]in 1992 would be repeated. We are talking about terrible crimes. This includes the abduction of girls, the rape and tearing open the abdominals to see if they were pregnant or not, and humiliating their bodies.

Heads were nailed, people were burned and eyes were put out in trays for people to identify their loved ones. Many women committed suicide to save themselves from being raped, while fathers and brothers killed their wives and daughters to save them from the hands of the Northern Alliance. This nightmare hasn't been forgotten, and people are scared now. We have already heard reports of executions in Mazar.

Q: RAWA has an underground network of almost 2,000 women working in and around Afghanistan. Have you been able to continue your work to promote women's rights under the current circumstances?

A: Yes, we have been able to continue. We had opportunities to work even during the bombardments, because we intentionally tried our level best to continue as it was a bad time and many people could not escape and needed us there. We were concerned for their lives, and we couldn't have left then. Our work is still continuing and our tactics will not change.

We still have to work [as a] clandestine [organisation]. Under the Northern Alliance, we believe work will be more difficult, because the Taliban were foolish people and the Northern alliance are a lot more clever. They are more aware of the underground tactics and can trace you better. We will have to be even more careful now.

Q: What are the most difficult tasks you have to perform?

A: Simple tasks, such as having a literacy course or a handicraft workshop for women is a difficult task in Afghanistan. But the most difficult work we do is documentation of crimes by the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. We started doing this in the early 1990s, which has proved successful. This includes photographs and reports which are given on the web site. This in fact is the most risky and important work.

Q: How facilitating do you think the Northern Alliance will be in supporting the importance of women inside the country?

A: We don't believe they will be facilitating. They cannot bring about any change from our point of view based on experience we have from history. They are no different than the Taliban. They just dress differently to the Taliban, and this appeals to the West more. These people are used to firing and killing. They are ignorant and uneducated people.

They were the first people to create this misery in Afghanistan, and the first to close schools, colleges and cinema halls. They said school was the gateway to hell, and said elections were a Western term, and that democracy was infidelity [to religion]. That being the case, we cannot expect much from them. There will be no change under them, and they are deceiving many countries with their false promises.

Q: What role can the international community play in safeguarding the rights of women in Afghanistan?

A: The UN should play a role in trying to help Afghans. They need to stop the aid, in terms of the weapons supply and financial support, to the Northern Alliance, because they do not have the ideological support of the masses. They just have guns. There also needs to be a peacekeeping force which will disarm the armed groups, and I'm sure the people would support that.

People remember the peace and security from 30 years ago. I met an Afghan woman who said she could live without food, but she could not live without peace. So that is what Afghans are hungry and thirsty for.

Q: How do you view the role of women in reconstruction and recovery in a post-Taliban Afghanistan?

A: Women make up half of the population, and can play a major role in any social and economic change in a country like Afghanistan. But the country has suffered for the last three decades, and the social, cultural and economic aspects have been badly affected, and this needs immense work to revive it. At present, we are hopeful, but it would be wishful thinking to have women in the government. This is not what we are jumping to right now. What we need is an open area to breathe, but certainly participation is very important.

Q: Regarding the Bonn conference, there is confusion over whether or not you were invited. Can you clarify the situation?

A: We were invited to be a part of [the former king Mohammad] Zahir Shah's delegation, but something changed. We think they had additional pressure put on them from the Northern Alliance, who didn't want us there, and they made excuses saying that we were too late and couldn't join the delegation. Additionally, the people behind Zahir Shah blocked us. That is why the Bonn conference is a threat to our country and to the future government. I don't want to use the word puppet for Zahir Shah, but I think that this is what he would be.

Q: RAWA has been very vocal over the past few years. Do you think this is a reason why you were not invited?

A: Yes. They know how staunch we are and how vocal we are about human rights and terrorism. They know RAWA is the only organisation which is never going to compromise. We cannot forget the past. We believe that at least 10 percent, or the cream, of the Northern Alliance should be in a public court and punished for the crimes they have committed. The Bonn conference is not the place for them.

Q: Under a transitional government, do you expect to see any changes with regard to the role of women in society?

A: The transitional government is going to include the Northern Alliance, and any fundamentalist element will hinder women's progress. If the world is interested in having a democratic Afghanistan, then there shouldn't be a nest of terrorism in Afghanistan. The country should not be misused as a place for terrorism to grow. I've also been told that they [Northern Alliance] have learned a lesson.

Now tell me, can you put the lives of 20 million people at risk just because a bunch of criminals are telling you that they have learned a lesson? Can we really trust these people? The talk of the UN and US controlling them can be questioned too. If they can be trusted, then why the question of giving them the power of ruling?

With reference to what happened in Mazar, if we can't control them right now, then how can you control them when they are in power? Neither the Taliban nor the Northern Alliance should be part of the new government. Zahir Shah is the only possibility left, and we prefer him, but keep in mind that this is not the best choice.


UNHCR has begun its voluntary repatriation programme for 2003 hoping to assist mainly refugees living in camps
[Afghanistan] An Afghan woman prepares for the journey to Pakistan.
Wednesday, August 15, 2001
UNHCR-assisted Afghan repatriation drive kicks off
[Afghanistan] An Afghan woman prepares for the journey to Pakistan.
An Afghan woman prepares for the journey to Pakistan

Q: Do you see women being direct participants in the government, or merely playing a supportive role?

A: Firstly, I don't think a future government will be set up soon, because these dogs will start fighting again with each other over the presidential seat. Of course, a proper future government which will come about in less that 20 years should have women playing a direct role.

Q: Will women ever have a secure future in Afghanistan?

A: Yes they will, but... and there is always a 'but'. The 'but' is that the Northern Alliance shouldn't be there. If women are to have a future in Afghanistan, then all terrorists in our country need to be brought to justice.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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